We’re not even halfway through 2017 and the Ballon d’Or debate is already creeping into conversation.
The end of the domestic season across Europe’s top leagues is imminent and fans and pundits alike all enjoy reflecting on who has been the standout player of the last nine or so months.
With the recent dominance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, however, predicting the Ballon d’Or winner has been fairly obvious over the last few years.
Excluding the aforementioned pair, Kaka was the last man to claim the prize almost ten years ago and in truth, no one has looked even close to competing with Ronaldo and Messi since then.
The two rivals have maintained their impressive form throughout the 2016-17, breaking records left, right and centre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a shoo-in to win the Ballon d’Or again this year.
Currently, Ronaldo is the favourite to retain the award, according to the bookies, yet there are increasing calls for a fresh face to be crowned the best player in the world.
We say fresh, but he is actually the oldest player believed to be in contention – of course, we’re talking about Gianluigi Buffon.
The 39-year-old has had another brilliant campaign for Juventus and could yet finish the season with a treble.
And as a reward for his longevity and sustained success, many think he could pip Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or if Juventus beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final next week.
Including former Barcelona star Xavi, who has voiced his support for Buffon – over old teammate Messi.
“I read the other day that Buffon has never won the Champions League,” Xavi told AS.
“He deserved this honour and I’d like to see him win the next Ballon d’Or.”
Picking the winner of next week’s final in Cardiff was a little bit harder for the ex-Spanish international and he is expecting a very close game.
He added: “Juventus are playing well and have an excellent side. They showed this in the tie against Barcelona and were impossible to break down. It’s a toss of a coin as to who will win out.”
But if Buffon is to win the Ballon d’Or later this year, lifting the historic Champions League trophy is an absolute must.